Three Tasks for a Dragon

Three Tasks for a Dragon

Three Tasks for a Dragon













Three Tasks for a Dragon

Eoin Colfer

P. J. Lynch

Walker Books, 2023

32pp., hbk., RRP $A32.99


After his father’s ‘accidental’ death at sea, his stepmother Queen Nimh and stepbrother Prince Delbayne invoke ancient Lagin law that only those who can summon the mysterious wolfhounds can become king, and Prince Lir is to be banished from his beloved homeland forever. The prince is a scholar not a warrior and acquiesces to his fate, but in an apparent act of generosity, Prince Delbayne pleads his stepbrother’s case and it is agreed that if Prince Lir can complete an ancient quest he will be able to return. 

Thus Prince Lir finds himself on a mission to rescue a young maiden being held captive by the dragon Lasvarg on his island, not realising that it is all part of a devious, malicious plan and dark magic concocted by his not-so-nice brother to ensure that Lir never returns to assume his place on the throne… But then, Delbayne does not realise that brains can overcome brawn… 

Created by two who have each been the Irish children’s laureate, this is a story reminiscent of the quests of old, drawing the reader into the fantasy of kings and queens and dragons and maidens needing to be rescued  with its twists and turns in the plot while its superb illustrations bring times gone by to life.  You can almost envisage this as a Lord of the Rings-esque movie, and while it has the traditional good versus evil as its underlying theme, because Prince Lir keeps his father’s words “The trick to it… is to work with what is around you,” it has a refreshing new perspective because rather than trying to trick the dragon and kill it to save Cethlenn, Lir uses his brains to cure the dragon’s ailments caused by the mould in his damp cave, mend his broken wing, and restore his fire-breathing powers,

, forming a partnership that eventually outwits and outlasts Nimh, Delbayne and even Lagin itself..

This is an illustrated novella that would make an ideal introduction to this genre as a read-aloud merging the traditional elements and feel of the classic quest with more modern themes.  


Temora and the Wordsnatcher

Temora and the Wordsnatcher

Temora and the Wordsnatcher











Temora and the Wordsnatcher

Kate Gordon

Wombat Books, 2023

300pp., pbk., RRP $A19.99


Temora Murphy is eleven years old. She lives in a world where she never really fits. The other girls make fun of her. She’s not the “right” sort of girl for anyone – least of all her mother. On the candles of her birthday cake, she wishes for escape. Like magic, in a black pearl box at the bottom of her garden, books begin to appear. The books help her to leave her world and find another where she belongs.

On her twelfth birthday, Temora makes another wish, a wish that alters her life forever. Temora Tempest is welcomed into a world within a book, where everyone else has been waiting for her. But when some of the other apprentices fall victim to a magical disease that could only be caused by one person – a monster thought long dead – Temora realises that there can be darkness in every story. And that it might be her job to save everyone.

Described by the publisher as “a literary children’s story; a portal fantasy work, featuring a diverse cast of characters and a protagonist who marches to the beat of her own drum” this is a story for all those girls like my now-Ms 17 who go through primary school more in touch with the characters in stories than the luminaries of social media and who can not only transport themselves deep into a story but have a solid conversation as though they were a real part of it. Although S grew up in a loving family with a loving mother, and did not have the same adventures as Temora, she certainly had the confidence to march to the beat of her own drum because of her reading (and still does), and would have loved this book when she was in her late primary years. 

A complex read for independent readers who would like to find themselves in their favourite stories  it is one to snuggle up with on cold winter nights, particularly as the next in this Wordspinner series – Temora and the Dreamers – will be out in September. 

A Girl Called Corpse

A Girl Called Corpse

A Girl Called Corpse











A Girl Called Corpse

Reece Carter

Simon Howe

Allen & Unwin, 2022

352pp., pbk., RRP $A17.99


Find the thing the Witches call a treasure,’ says Old Man, ‘and you’ll get back all those memories you’re missing.’

With a body made of wax, seaweed for hair and polished abalone shells for eyes, Corpse is bound to haunt the Witches’ sea shack forever. She has no memory of the kid she was before she was snatched and ended up on the rock-that-doesn’t-exist, using magic to hold herself together so she doesn’t cross over the Death Proper. Her dearest wish is to escape the rock, find her family and live. But she appears to be bound on the rock off the coast of the tiny forgotten town of Elston-Frigh forever, until the delivery of an unexpected message sets her off on a surprising quest, searching for answers to the old and familiar questions that have filled her not-brain since the day she first woke up a ghost. Questions about her name. Questions about her family. With only her eight-legged friend Simon for company, Corpse heads into the unknown. There will be danger – cruel Witches, a silver-eyed sea monster and a cunning Merchant with a hungry grin – but Corpse is not afraid. She’ll stop at nothing to uncover the truth about her past. Only some answers, it turns out, are much closer than she thinks.

Shortlisted for the ABIA Book of the Year for Younger Children (7-12 years) this is a debut novel that has a strong message about the power of family, friendship, trust and believing  and trusting in yourself and what you stand for.  For older, independent readers who can let reality go and cope with twists and turns in the plot, this is a new series that will captivate those who like the Nevermoor series, with a sequel The Lonely Lighthouse of Elston-Fright being released in October 2023.

Where The River Takes Us

Where The River Takes Us

Where The River Takes Us











Where The River Takes Us

Lesley Parr

Bloomsbury, 2023

320pp., pbk., RRP $A16.99


Wales, February 1974. The coal miners are on strike for better pay and conditions, and energy rationing is enforced with power to homes and businesses only being allowed at certain times of the day, and thus many businesses are working on a three-day week. It’s winter, it’s wet and cold.  And to add to this misery, in a small village 13-year-old Jason  and 18-year-old Richie are grieving the death of their parents in a car accident while struggling to stay together in their family home.  The mortgage is due again on March 1 but there will be no celebration for St David’s Day this year because Richie’s wages just aren’t enough.

When Jason learns how Richie has been tricked into making some extra money on the side, he is terrified his brother will end up in prison and they will be separated, regardless, and so when he learns about a reward being offered for proof of the existence of a wild beast roaming nearby mountains, it seems like a lifeline worth pursuing at all costs.  An idea is born and a quest begun.  With his best friends Jinx, Tam and Catrin, he sets off on adventure following the river up into the high country, determined to be the first to photograph the Beast with the camera Catrin has “borrowed” from her father. But they’re not the only ones on the hunt as they are dogged by their arch-enemies Gary and Dean, and so the trip is made even more hazardous…

Underpinned by the bonds between the four children, this is a brilliant, fresh, original story that kept me reading until I finished.  While the lure of the £100 reward which they have agreed will be used to pay the boys’ mortgage. is the carrot that keeps them going physically, it is as much an emotional journey for each of them as they learn so much about themselves, about each other and about the power of friendship and the complexity of grief.  Unbreakable ties are forged that will exist regardless of the outcome of the quest,  while both Jason and Richie begin to accept that they are not alone and it’s okay to let others in for support and guidance.  

Like The Valley of Lost Secrets, (the first chapter of which is included at the end), this is a superbly crafted story built on the interactions between the key characters – ordinary kids doing something as ordinary as an overnight camping trip in the school holidays, but who find themselves learning more than they ever imagined.  When questioned about what they are doing, rather than divulge their hunt for the Beast in case others are too, Catrin refers to the Duke of Edinburgh Award, one often associated with outdoor adventure, but if the reader examines the full purpose of it – “to explore their full potential and find their purpose, passion and place in the world, regardless of their location or circumstance” – then perhaps that’s exactly what they did, just without the formality.

Independent readers who like authentic stories with real body will adore this, as will class teachers looking for an absorbing read-aloud that will hook the entire class.

In the meantime, I am eagerly awaiting a copy of When the War Came Home because Lesley Parr is becoming a name I am always going to look for. 

The Fix-it Princess

The Fix-it Princess

The Fix-it Princess













The Fix-it Princess

Janeen Brian

Cherie Dignam

Walker Books, 2023

160pp., pbk., RRP $A15.99


Princess Shona likes to solve problems, the bigger the better and particularly if they involve practical solutions like rebuilding the chook house.  She is a  is a princess with a Can-Do attitude bur right now she is facing the biggest problem she has ever had to solve.

For their joint birthdays, she made Mum-Queen and Dad-King a wing-thing and they were last seen two days ago soaring over the castle walls and haven’t returned.  Because hard times have fallen, there is no staff left at the castle and so Shona is on her own with 15 chickens (who at least lay eggs so she has food) and an old horse called Wildfire.  To make matters worse, the drawbridge is up and so she can’t get out to start looking for them, because surely if they could get back, they would be…

With all the elements of a good story about princesses including gloomy, scary woods nearby, a dragon who sings but apparently can’t fly, shysters who pretend to be her parents and so on, this is a great novel for any young independent reader who has dreamed of being a princess – but one who is resilient and resourceful rather than waiting for some handsome prince to rescue her.  They will relate to her bubbly personality that refuses to be daunted and like me, will want to keep reading to find out what really did happen to Mum-Queen and Dad-King and whether they are safe. Have they been kidnapped or has her Wing-Thing gone horribly wrong, as so many of her other “solutions” do? 


Roxy & Jones (series)

Roxy & Jones (series)

Roxy & Jones (series)











Roxy & Jones (series)

The Great Fairytale Cover-Up


The Curse of the Gingerbread Witch


Angela Woolfe

Walker Books, 2020-2022

240+pp., pbk., RRP $A14.99

Once Upon a Modern Time, in the city of Rexopolis, in the Kingdom of Illustria, lived twelve-year-old Roxy Humperdinck, struggling to exist on the meagre wages of a toilet cleaner for the Ministry of Soup, and sharing a room with her half-sister Gretel, who is actually she of  Hansel and Grete fame. although Roxy is unaware of that.  When she accidentally discovers a secret vault in which a girl called Jones was hiding, dressed in a daffodil outfit, and who has a habit of leaving mysteriously leaving only a shoe behind, the pair become friends and through a mysterious book, discover the secrets of an enchantment  put on people who know that Illustria once had a frightening past and was known as the cursed Kingdom of Diabolica so that the real events have been wiped from memories.

Roxy discovers the truth about her  brother and sister raising suspicions  that all might not be as it seems and when her new friend  reveals  that her real name was actually Cinderella Jones, the mystery deepens. As they embark on a quest for the Seventh Stone, Roxy is about to discover the truth about her world and her family: that witches are real, magic is real and fairy tales are not only real … despite what the ruling Ministry of Soup wants them to believe.

In the second in the series, Roxy  is still reeling from the Great Fairy Tale Cover-up when Cinderella Jones returns with a new mission: to investigate The Missing – the children who followed the Pied Piper into the mountain thirty years ago, never to be seen again. And so begins another crazy adventure that takes the girls up Jack’s beanstalk, through Red Riding Hood’s Woods … and to the cottage of the most evil villain of all time, the Gingerbread Witch.

This is a series that straddles the known of the fairytale world with the blurry borders of fantasy for those who want to delve into that magical world but still need to have a foot in the world of reality and what they know. While there are any number of fractured fairytales in picture book format, this is one  for those who are independent readers and who have the skills to follow a reasonable complex plot made easier if they know their traditional fairy tales because the references will make more sense.  

Best read in order for continuity, this is a series that sets itself up for more episodes that will be one of those that readers return to regardless of their age just because they have engaged with both characters and plot and want to know what happens. 

Lightfall (series)

Lightfall (series)

Lightfall (series)











Lightfall (series)

The Girl & the Galdurian


Shadow of the Bird


Tim Probert

HarperCollins, 2021=22

256pp., graphic novel, RRP $A19.99

Welcome to Irpa, a world in which humans live and work alongside animals, where the sun no longer shines, and an ancient, forgotten terror is stirring.

When the sun was extinguished 500 years earlier, the Galdurians invented and built floating Lights to ward off the overwhelming darkness, and now, though the Galdurians are believed to be extinct, the Lights shine on.  

Deep in the heart of the planet stands the Salty Pig’s House of Tonics & Tinctures, home of the wise Pig Wizard and his adopted granddaughter, Bea, studying, foraging and making potions together for the people of their once-prosperous world, and, as keepers of the Endless Flame, living a quiet and peaceful life. 

All that changes one day when, while walking through the woods, Bea meets Cad, a member of the Galdurians, an ancient race thought to be long-extinct. Cad believes that if anyone can help him find his missing people, it’s the Pig Wizard. And so these two unlikely friends get swept up in an epic quest to save their world from falling into eternal darkness.

When they arrive home, the Pig Wizard is nowhere to be found—all that’s left is the Jar of Endless Flame and a mysterious note. Fearing for the Pig Wizard’s safety, Bea and Cad set out across Irpa to find him, while danger fights its way out of the shadows and into the light.

Will these two unexpected friends find the beloved Pig Wizard and prevent eternal darkness from blanketing their world Or has Irpa truly seen its last sunrise?

In the second in this new series, Bea and Cad continue their quest to stop Kest, the mythic bird who stole the sun. After a battle that nearly cost them their lives, they awaken in the hidden settlement of the Arsai, mysterious creatures who can glimpse into the future. The Arsai’s vision paints a dire picture for their planet, as the bird Kest Ke Belenus—now awoken from a restless slumber—threatens to destroy all the Lights of Irpa. Desperate for a solution, Bea and Cad seek out the help of a water spirit known as Lorgon, whose ancient wisdom may help them find a way to take down Kest and save Irpa from utter destruction.

But when their time with Lorgon presents more questions than answers, Bea and Cad must decide what’s more important . . . stopping Kest or uncovering the truth.

Both episodes end on a cliff-hanger leaving the reader to wait for the next installment, making this an engaging series for those who enjoy this sort of story in graphic novel format.  Probert has built a whole new world with intriguing characters that young independent readers will relate to as they face the sorts of dilemmas and decisions that the reader does, but in a parallel setting that adds an extra dimension, yet remains familiar so the leap isn’t too great for their imaginations.   


Swim, Shark, Swim

Swim, Shark, Swim

Swim, Shark, Swim











Swim, Shark, Swim

Dom Conlon

Anastasia Izlesou

CSIRO Publishing, 2022 

32pp., hbk., RRP $A24.99


The sun shines down on the West Australian ocean, highlighting the shape of a blacktip reef shark just below the surface.  But when a boat drops a net the shark knows he has to “open a tunnel of bubbles and swim, Shark, SWIM.”

And off he goes, on a trip around the world searching for the place he calls home, meeting other sharks and sea creatures during the journey, some friendly and others, not-so. 

While blacktips do not normally migrate as this one does, it offers an opportunity for readers to meet various species of sharks around the world, sharks which , as the apex predators, keep the ocean waters in balance by helping maintain the diversity rather than the dominance of one creature. With lyrical text and arresting illustrations, young readers can learn to respect the creatures of the deep and unknown rather than fearing them because their only knowledge is sensational news stories, scary movies and sinister music.  Building knowledge through information rather than imagination develops understanding much more effectively. 

Accompanied by comprehensive teachers’ notes for Years 2-5 that will build an even greater understanding of the planet’s different marine habitats, their inhabitants and their particular characteristics, this is a book that celebrates the natural world and encourages students to delve deeper than the surface.  Makes me wish I was still allowed to dive – so many of my hours have passed well below the sun’s sparkle and I miss it.



Peppa Pig: Where’s George’s Dinosaur?

Peppa Pig: Where's George's Dinosaur?

Peppa Pig: Where’s George’s Dinosaur?











Peppa Pig: Where’s George’s Dinosaur?

Peppa Pig

Ladybird, 2022

10pp., board book., RRP $A14.99


George is looking for Mr Dinosaur but he can’t find him anywhere and he’s distressed.  So Mummy Pig suggests they retrace their steps through the day, but no matter how promising things look, what’s revealed under the flap is not Mr Dinosaur.

In a book reminiscent of the advertisement for a particular brand of car in which a family retraces their steps in search of Gonzo the missing toy rabbit, little ones can not only follow George’s search as they resonate with his rising distress but they learn that there can be a logical sequence of events to follow rather than throwing a tantrum. So that when they misplace something, parents can draw on George’s experience to guide them in theirs.

Again, the use of a familiar plot, favourite characters and a lift-the-flap technique mean the book will engage even our youngest readers and those crucial concepts about the value of print will continue to develop.  There’s something special about quietly observing Mr Nearly 3 taking himself off to a quiet spot and retelling himself the story using his own vocabulary as he recounts George’s adventures.  But there was also something disconcerting when at the conclusion he said, “I bet his mum put it there out of her bag,” suggesting that maybe he had been exposed to that advertisement once too often!

Pax, Journey Home

Pax, Journey Home

Pax, Journey Home












Pax, Journey Home

Sara Pennypacker

Jon Klassen

HarperCollins, 2021

256pp., hbk., RRP $A19.99


A year has passed since Peter and Pax have seen each other, since the separation of a once inseparable pair.

The war is over but the land has been left desecrated and deserted as the water supplies have been poisoned by heavy metals. Peter’s father has died in questionable circumstances and although Peter is back living with Vola, and his grandfather visits regularly, he believes that everything he loves he hurts and they leave him so he is determined to shut the world out and live alone.  After all, he is nearly 14.  

And so, the boy-man sets out on a journey to reclaim his old home; to join the Water Warriors, a band of people painstakingly cleaning up the polluted waterways to restore life -flora, fauna and human – to it;  and to keep the world at arm’s length and out of his heart forever. That way he can keep those he might love, safe. But is that possible?  He certainly didn’t count on meeting Jade, let alone her insight and wisdom. 

Meanwhile, Pax has adapted to the wild he did not seek; and has become father to a litter of kits, one of whom is an inquisitive, feisty female whom he must protect at all costs, particularly after she drinks deeply of the contaminated water. And as they continue their long journey home, Pax continually picks up the scent of the boy who abandoned him…

This is one of those stories that stays with you long after you reluctantly turn the final page, not just because of the power of the surface story but because the layers and  currents that run through it,just like those of the river that is at its heart – the river that put Peter back into old territory and provides Pax with safe passage from humans and predators. Although Pennypacker believed that she would not write another novel after Pax, clearly deep within her she knew there was more of this story to be told and this is the compelling sequel, one that kept me up well past my bedtime as I immersed myself in it, wanting to finish but knowing that when I did I would be left with that feeling that comes when an absorbing plot and great writing come together.

If you have mature, independent readers who can appreciate the nuances and parallels of what is between and beyond the words  then this is the duo for them.  Less sophisticated readers will enjoy the story for what it is, but it is those who are able to reach down to the deeper waters below the surface who will most appreciate it.